To you, unknown political prisoners—Narcisso Julian (since 1946), Costas Philinis (since 1947), Eli Erythriadou (since 1950), Joachim Amaro (since 1952). And for you, the thousands of the forgotten whose very names are lost.
Xenakis has synthesized the text from Sumerian and ancient Persian in phonemes and syllables. This is a language freed from semantics, where phonology is everything. The carriers of meaning are the shapes and gestures of the voices themselves. The a cappella soprano voices burst into keening quarter-tone melodic plaints which are neutralized by the basses, altos and tenors. The vocal elements are set in constant opposition, as if different parts have to fight for survival. It is a work of agon (‘contest’), with a basic armoury of phonic elements which range from high shrill to open vowels treated rhythmically in polyphony. Xenakis is able to produce interference beats and purely ‘orchestral’ timbres with voices. He seems determined to strip them of linguistic connotation, just as the prisoners to whom he has dedicated the work had been deprived of free speech, their words stripped of meaning and reference. Nonetheless, the expressive medium of disjointed bits of words and their emotional deployment, discharges a highly combustible message with great depth and tragic dimension, eschewing long-sung phrases.
Nuits was commissioned by the Gulbenkian Foundation and the first performance, at the Royan Festival in April 1968, was given by the soloists of the ORTF under the direction of Marcel Couraud.
from notes by Nouritza Matossian © 1998